AKRON—Bridgestone Americas Inc. launched a new partnership with Akron Public Schools, officially opening the East Community Learning Center Automotive Technology Center in cooperation with Firestone Complete Auto Care.
The new training center will give students a place for hands-on experience for technical instruction in automotive technology alongside necessary business practices, said Nizar Trigui, chief technology officer for Bridgestone Americas.
Bridgestone donated equipment and point-of-sale systems to the center, which was renovated from the existing automotive technology lab at East CLC by Akron Public Schools. The new lab includes a customer waiting area and equipment to service vehicles. Pat Reams of Reams Enterprises of East Point, Ga., donated staff and contractors to complete the build, according to a Bridgestone news release.
Students will learn the technical skills behind automotive care through the center, guided by Bridgestone team members, who have committed to donating 1,000 hours of time in the first year, Trigui said. The company's local technical center is located just a few miles from the new automotive lab.
"Our technical team wants to donate time, and help, teach and mentor," he said at the ribbon-cutting event. "Some of the stuff we do, we don't learn in schools. We learn out of doing. Then we want to share that experience with people who want to learn. It's a great combination."
The donation of time is a commitment to the community beyond just writing a check, Trigui said.
"You can always donate money," he said. "But part of this is also engaging with our teammates at Bridgestone. For a lot of them, this is their community. They want to give something back."
Bridgestone employees were a driving force in bringing the company to the partnership with APS, he said.
"They thought there would be an opportunity to give back to our community, develop some talent and another pool of qualified engineers," Trigui said.
The business side of the retrofitted lab will train students on the basics of daily working life in automotive care, including how to work with customers, said David James, Akron Public Schools superintendent.
"They will learn about fundamental business operations such as scheduling, purchasing, logistics, record-keeping and communication and customer service," he said at the event. "We have a vision here at APS, for our students to be engaged learners with goals for their future; more competitive for internships and scholarships; enrolled, employed or enlisted upon graduation; and prepared for college, career and life."
The soft skills of working with customers will go a long way to helping prepare students for a career in the industry. When Bridgestone hires employees, it looks for technical skills, but ultimately the company is in the service business, Trigui said.
"Really, how do you interact with a customer? How do you engage with them?" he said. "Also, in the back office, there's the accounting side, there's a lot of learning procedures and paperwork. It's all procedures you need for great service. It's really the service side, as well as the technical, is the right balance."
The learning center is a model based on a similar project in Nashville, Tenn., again driven by Bridgestone teammates, said Trigui. As that plan got off the ground, the company saw it as a project that could be implemented in other places across the country with the backing of local Bridgestone employees and partners. There's no timeline in place, but Bridgestone has a target of developing about 50 of these types of centers across the U.S.
Trigui said he wants the charge to be led by Bridgestone employees looking for ways to give back to their communities, and is encouraging them to get involved.
"We just love this model. We had the pilot in Nashville, and this is the second successful implementation," Trigui said. "We think we can duplicate this in more places."
Trigui said working with students now also makes good business sense, as today's trainees will broaden the talent pool later. Having better training and technology available will also give those potentially employees a wider range of skills and attract more talent to the industry in general.
But Akron made sense as a particular target for the new center for Bridgestone, given its history with the city, he said.
"We strongly believe we have to give something back to the environment we're in. We truly want to make anyplace we work or live a better place," Trigui said. "We need to do our part as individuals, but also as a corporate citizen of this great location. We've been in Akron for more than 100 years, so we have a strong history and a strong foundation here. This is very important for us."
The new lab, which also was completed through the support of the United Way of Summit County, will support about 100 students.